Essay on Identifying an Asterism

by Tara Ballard

Like a child’s marbles, your friend keeps bullets
spooned from her family walls
inside a ceramic bowl.
She pushes aside three rows of goblets
to reach for a handful, noses blunt
by impact. They are cold
when she drops them in your palm,
shows you where the bomb hit, laughs
about her new kitchen—such light.
Bullet-weight in the scale of your hand,
you meander under the veranda trellis,
grape leaves a tent of filtered green
and welcome shade. Clusters of fruit
hang like solar systems in a familiar universe.
By now, you know to stay indoors
during scheduled protests. You have seen
the tarantula posted on the street side.
How well you know the eight Spartan legs,
eyes watching from every angle.
How well you know the taste of tear gas
in the esophagus, sting between your teeth.
You have participated in this communion:
you took and drank. After, you dipped
into the café at a nearby hotel
to clear your breathing,
floor tiles not Alhambra, but another,
smoothed and shaped as the stars
who show themselves early,
their memory going back
before the establishment
of international law. As sunset concedes
to twilight, constellations begin
their splash across an ocean,
one, of course, more brilliant than the rest.
The name for this dying bright
escapes you. Tipping your head so far
you lose your balance,
instead you find the word for “snow.”
You plunk one ice cube into glass
and clear magic reveals itself
a white cloud. Aniseed smoke
swirls a gloss across your lips
like incense. A smell of dirtied coins
lingers on your skin.

Tara Ballard is from Alaska. Her collection House of the Night Watch (New Rivers Press) won the 2016 Many Voices Project prize in poetry. Her poems have been published in diodePoetry NorthwestMichigan Quarterly Review, and elsewhere, and her work won a 2019 Nazim Hikmet Poetry Prize.